Terror warning over IS children returned to Britain
THERE is no guarantee that the children of Islamic State parents brought back to Britain from Syria will not pose a threat to the public in future, the government’s terror watchdog warned today.
Jonathan Hall QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the only children who have been returned so far are aged under 10.
But he warned that the growing number of domestic teenagers becoming radicalised showed the risk of extremism among the young and that it was impossible to know how children exposed to extremism in Syria will turn out.
“A difficult cadre of children are those who have returned from Da’esh controlled areas,” he writes today in his annual report to Parliament.
“The fact that many children are brutalised victims and require rehabilitation does not mean that they do not present terrorist risk on return and may not have been trained specifically to carry out terrorist acts.
“This poses the question of how to address that risk, either overseas or back home. So far, all children brought back have been under 10 years of age.
“But since matters are rarely absolute, and intelligence often incomplete, no assessment can exclude the possibility that a child may immediately, or in due course, be drawn into violence as a result of their experiences overseas.”
Mr Hall said that although terrorism prevention and investigation measures, known as TPIMS, or temporary exclusion orders to delay their return could in theory be used to address the risk, neither piece of legislation appears designed to deal with children.
But he warns that although family court powers could be used, they require judges to place the interests of the child ahead of those of national security and the potential danger they might pose.
“The focus of family proceedings is on the risk of harm to the child rather than the risk of harm by the child,” Mr Hall states.
“The interests of the individual child are paramount and cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter-terrorism.”
Warning of other legal problems that might. hinder effective controls being imposed on a child returnee from Syria, Mr Hall adds that “the standard of proof in family proceedings can be demanding”, while local authorities which are responsible for handling cases “have varying degrees of expertise on terrorist risk”’and “will not have access to intelligence”.
He says they might also “simply take different views from counter-terrorism police” in a further warning that any danger they pose might not be adequately addressed.
Mr Hall cites a number of international and domestic terror cases involving children as evidence of the growing risk, which he says has led to police arresting an increasing number of teenagers.
One case highlighted is that of Safaa Boular, the 16-year-old Londoner who was jailed for life with a minimum 13 year tariff in 2018 for plotting to either to travel to Syria to carry out a sucide bombing or to attack the British Museum if she failed to get to the Middle East.
Mr Hall said she “had from the age of 12 been subject to radicalisation through the malign influence of her mother and her mother’s friends”.
Boular’s mother Mina Dich, 44, and sister Rizlaine Boular, 22, were also jailed for a planned knife attack on Parliament with terms of six years and nine months and life with a minimum of 16 years respectively.
The government’s policy is to enable the return of British children either taken to Syria by their parents or born there. Few have come back so far, however, because of the difficulty they and their parents face in getting from the Kurdish controlled detention camps where most are held to another country where they can obtain consular assistance to assist their return.
Some parents have also had their citizenship removed on the grounds that they are dual nationals, The most famous case involved Shamima Begum, the former east London schoolgirl, now 21, who has been stripped of her British nationality on the grounds that she is also a Bangladeshi citizen. She has lost three children since going to Syria to join Islamic State and recently lost a Supreme Court challenge that would have allowed her to return to Britain to fight to get her passport back.
Mr Hall says her case highlights the need for ministers to consider extending temporary exclusion orders, which currently apply only to British citizens and allow their return to be delayed and carried out subject to controls, to foreign nationals.